Rangers demoralize the Caps … again

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘bridgetds’

It has been a while since the fans at Verizon Center have seen a good show.

Well, that is if you weren’t at Lady Gaga Thursday night.

More specifically, Capitals fans have not seen a good show at Verizon in quite some time. Before the 6-0 shelling at the hands of the Rangers on Friday, the Capitals had lost their previous two home games by a combined score of 6-1 to the Kings and Sharks. The team then went on the road for much of the month of February, cruising the West Coast, New York and Pennsylvania for five games with varying results before returning home to lay an egg against New York.

The last time the red-clad denizens of Verizon Center got to celebrate a win was against rival Pittsburgh Feb. 6. A home win over the Penguins, because they are so hated in D.C., makes everything all right, doesn’t it?

“Our fans deserve better. That is three games in a row at home and you know we deserve to give them,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It is not fun when you come home and you play like that. I thought, quite frankly, that we competed harder than that 4-1 game against Los Angeles. We got better chances, it looked like we were skating but you know it is just not acceptable. It is embarrassing.”

Washington is now 5-6-7 in its last 18 games at Verizon Center and has scored a total of 33 goals in those contests. That is 1.83 goals per home game for a fan base that seemingly cares if the team is any good and, until early December, 2010, had grown accustomed to big goal totals and lots of points in the standings. Overall, the Caps are 17-8-3 at Verizon.

“Home is where you are supposed to have a very lopsided record,” forward Mike Knuble said.  “And it is OK but that is more of the result of good play in November and December where we have blown it up at home of late. I don’t even know if it is .500 over the last 12 or 13 games. It is where you are supposed to do well and play your best hockey and for us it hasn’t been and it has been pretty tough to go on the road but at home we have been in trouble. We will have to figure it out.”

If Washington is not careful, it could drop from its precarious spot clinging to the No. 4 or 5 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and have to face a tough team like the Flyers or Bruins in the first round. That would be tough. But it could be worse.

They could play the Rangers.

Right now, the Caps stand fifth in the Eastern Conference with 74 points, four behind the Penguins for fourth and three ahead of the Canadiens for sixth and four ahead of the Rangers for seventh. Washington should be able to sneak up to No. 4 soon by default — the injured Penguins are sliding down their own hole with a 2-6-2 record in their last 10 games. Given that the Rangers and the Canadiens have their own multitude of problems, it may be difficult for them to fully catch the Capitals if Washington indeed remains a .500 team for the rest of the season. But, if New York can make a run and get the fourth of fifth seed, the Capitals are in trouble.

The Rangers have outscored Washington 18-6 this year through four games (with one goal technically tallied on a shootout in a 2-1 win on Jan. 24). The two lowest points of the season for the Caps are probably the 6-0 loss at Verizon on Friday and the 7-0 bomb that New York arranged for them in December. New York has flat out demoralized the Caps this year.

Looking at the game action on Friday, it is easy to see why.

The Rangers are bigger than the Caps. The Rangers are meaner than the Caps. The Rangers will go to the corners and win puck battles over the Caps. The Rangers will punch you in the face if you look at them wrong, especially if you play for the Caps.

The Capitals are none of those things.

This is outside of one of the all-time NHL instigators in Sean Avery, who was pretty much a non-factor in 9:14 of ice time. The epitome of New York’s bull dog to the Capitals lame grey hound was watching Rangers’ defenseman Steve Eminger give Washington diminutive rookies centers — Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault — kidney shots with his gloves in the second and third periods as New York put the screws to the Caps. Washington was just beat up. As a team, Washington backs away and gets thumped out of games when the other team is overly physical to borderline dirty. The Caps are goal-scoring lovers, not scrap-in-the-corner fighters.

“It is just crazy how many goals they have put in against us,” Knuble said. “It is not fun for us, you know, is it something they are doing or are that great offensively or are we really breaking down. That is for all of us to decide in our room.But it was a good game for them and beat us and not only beat us but beat us real good.”

So, New York chipped away and kept at their rebounds and eventually the cheesecloth that is the Washington defense holding back the faucet ripped. Michal Neuvirth (six goals allowed, 22 saves) was not at his best and got pummeled as an extension of the thrashing his oft-uninterested defensemen took.

It didn’t help that Mike Green took a shoulder from Derek Stepan early in the first period (reports are that the NHL is reviewing the hit, perhaps a suspension for Stepan). But Green, while sometime brave, is not much of a fighter. He is a puck mover that Washington could have used on Friday (Caps defensemen gave up numerous odd-man breaks as a result of poor passing in the neutral zone) but Green was as likely to get roughed up in the corner by Rangers’ defensemen Matt Gilroy or Dan Girardi as anybody.

Green will not make the trip to New York to play the Islanders Saturday and Boudreau said he is day-to-day.

At this point of the year, it may be a little late for Capitals fans to hope for some consistency. For more than three straight months, Washington has been a .500 team, or a little worse.

“It seems like we have individuals who can’t put five and 10 good games together,” Boudreau said. “They can put three and and have a set back. We have to find some kind of consistency. It is the last 20 games of the year.”

Dan Rowinski

New England raised, transplanted in Virginia. Sports writer who has spent several seasons on the NHL beat covering the Boston Bruins along with stints writing about Boston College, Red Sox, Capitals and Nationals. Has worked for the New England Hockey Journal, WEEI.com, Fire Brand Of The American League, TBD.com among others. Also a technophile covering technology for ReadWriteWeb. Follow Dan on Twitter @Dan_Rowinski or email him at dan (at) welovedc.com.

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